How I Overcame Decision Fatigue to Budget Better

I have to be honest, I love budgeting.

I love organizing my income and assigning a purpose that brings me closer to my financial goals. Doing the math on how quickly I can save for something or how much extra income I need to pay something off is fun for me. 

But when it comes to following my budget… I’m the worst. (You can get our spending tracker and budget workbook right here!

Self Control and Budgets

I have a tiny capacity for self control and a very “all or nothing” personality so it’s hard for me to jump back on the wagon when I fall off.

While budgeting is the foundation to getting ahead with your money it can also feel restrictive. We have access to all the financial knowledge we need but none of it can give us the willpower we need to do it. So how do we get better? We have to get our mind right first.

One of the biggest things I’ve noticed in my life is that I start the day with great intentions. By about 3 pm life’s caught up with me and by 10 pm I’m I can’t be trusted to make good money decisions.

I learned that it’s called decision fatigue and I’m not the only one who struggles with it. It’s the concept that throughout the day your capacity to make the right decision depletes with every decision you make. That’s why it’s easy for me to pack a salad in the morning and so hard to eat that salad come lunch time.

Decisions as small as what to wear in the morning to big decisions like what healthcare plan to buy, all deplete our willpower. I see this with my spending habits a lot. I can avoid spending all day then all I want to do is go out to eat and stress shop at Target.

But I’ve incorporated some small habits to combat decision fatigue and they’ve been extremely helpful.. I can stick to my budget better and while I’m not perfect at executing them they’ve made a lasting impact on how I spend money.

Pay Yourself First

When my husband and I were paying off $78,000 in debt that meant making student loan payments first thing when our checks came through. An even better method would be to put everything on auto-draft but that wasn’t always possible on our irregular income.

So we decided that when we couldn’t automatically draft a bill or payment we’d make it first thing in the morning. Making those payments early helped me to not worry about the temptation to spend it elsewhere. Just getting started with paying off debt is more important than following an imaginary perfect system. 

My pro tip is to write down your most important task/payment the night before. Experts (or just smart people in general) say the most productive mornings start the night before

Try a No-Spend Challenge

I used no-spend challenges to cut out making any decisions during the day! I would mostly do month-long challenges but sometimes I’d do week-long or just a day. These short challenges weren’t as intimidating as quitting spending all together but were hard enough to make me meditate on my spending habits.

Taking the “should I buy this?” and “do I have enough money for this?” out of the equation gave my day a sense of simplicity. It also made me ask “why am I even trying to buy this?” And had the added benefit of eliminating the dreaded “where do you want to eat tonight?” debate.

Challenges also made me more resourceful. When I wanted to get out of the house but couldn’t spend money I’d find free activities instead of falling back on money-wasting habits.

No-spend challenges never seem to get easier but I see growth in a different spending area each time. I’m such a fan of these no-spend challenges I wrote all my experiences in a book to help others overcome decision fatigue, strengthen their willpower, and become more conscious consumers through finding what they truly value spending money on.

Reject Perfectionism

It’s easy to give up at the end of the day or when you’ve overspent for the Nth time. But life is an imperfect journey, and so is budgeting. We’re the ones who’ve turned it into a test of how well you can complete it.

So reject the little voice in your head that says you’re too busy, you’re not responsible enough, you’re too tired, or your goals are too big. Some seasons require more decisions than others and you’ll get through them all. Educate yourself as you go; constantly learning is a beautiful part of life. 

You can mess up, you just can’t give up.

Your days will forever be filled with mundane, hard, and confusing decisions. All we can do is try to make some decisions easier and eliminate others altogether. And then one day get rich enough to hire someone to make all our decisions for us. 😉

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Jen Smith is an author and blogger at SavingWithSpunk.com. She and her husband paid off $78,000 of debt in 23 months and didn’t have to move back in with their parents to do it.


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